Food poisoning | Western Cape Government

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Food poisoning

Food poisoning is a very common condition where a person gets ill because of eating or drinking contaminated foods that contain harmful germs like bacteria, viruses or parasites. 

What causes food poisoning?Women cutting vegetables while preparing food.

Different food items can cause food poisoning and normally depends on how the food was prepared and stored. For example, when food that’s supposed to be kept cool is left out of the fridge for too long.

Common causes of food poisoning:

  • E. coli - often spread through undercooked beef mince.
  • Salmonella - usually spread via undercooked poultry products or through unpasteurised milk.
  • Listeria - spread via processed meats and soft cheeses.
  • Campylobacter - contaminated meat and poultry.
  • Norovirus - usually spread from raw shellfish and between people.
  • Food allergies.

The symptoms of food poisoning vary and can also depend on the amount of food you ate. The symptoms can present itself immediately or a few hours after consuming the food or drink.

Food poisoning symptoms include: 

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal cramping and pain
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy and a general feeling of being unwell
  • Muscle aches
  • Chills

Food poisoning prevention tipsMother helping child washing her hands.

One of the best ways to prevent food poisoning is to be aware of what and where you’re eating. If you’re allergic to certain foods be extra cautious when eating out, especially at a buffet-style restaurant. Make sure to check that the food you ordered doesn’t contain any of the food items you’re allergic to.

  • Wash hands before and after food preparation. Use clean work surfaces and utensils.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating it.
  • Wash your cooking utensils before using it. If you’ve used a certain knife to cut up uncooked meat, don’t use the same knife to cut up cooked meat before washing it first.
  • Separate your cooked meat from raw meat when preparing a meal.
  • Make sure that the food is properly cooked, particularly meat and seafood, as heat kills bacteria.
  • Avoid cross-contamination. This includes storing different foods separately.
  • Keep perishable foods in the fridge or freezer, make sure to put them there promptly. Not all bacteria are killed by cooking. If meat is left at room temperature for too long, bacteria multiply rapidly. 
  • Use food by its expiry date. In the case of leftovers, keep to the rule: “When in doubt, throw them out.” Make sure to discard food left unrefrigerated for too long.

What can I do if I have food poisoning? 

Although food poisoning is common and at times unpleasant, it can be treated from home without medication by simply resting and drinking lots of water. More serious cases of food poisoning can cause dehydration. If you experience severe cramping, diarrhoea and vomiting that lasts for more than 2 days, it’s best to visit your local clinic or doctor.

Get emergency help if you:

  • notice blood in your vomit or stool,
  • experience heart palpitations,
  • have difficulty breathing,
  • have trouble swallowing,
  • have double vision, or
  • experiene severe stomach or abdominal cramping.
The content on this page was last updated on 28 August 2019